DAVID BOWIE

HE MAY HAVE DIED IN JAN­UARY, BUT WE STILL LIVE IN DAVID BOWIE’S WORLD, WRITES DO­RIAN LYNSKEY.

Q (UK) - - Contents -

A six-page re­minder why the world be­longed to the Dame in 2016 2016,

plus a pre­view of the forth­com­ing David Bowie: The Last Five Years BBC doc.

ON 24 JUNE, the day after the EU ref­er­en­dum, the ac­tor Paul Bet­tany tweeted: “In Jan­uary I dis­missed my mate’s the­ory that David Bowie was the glue hold­ing the uni­verse to­gether but I don’t know, man… I don’t know…” Over 20,000 retweets later, it’s clearly a pop­u­lar hy­poth­e­sis. It did seem as if this shock­ing year, when all the worst peo­ple thrived while many of the best, in­clud­ing Prince and Leonard Co­hen, were snatched away (and you might su­per­sti­tiously feel there were some con­nec­tion), really got started on 11 Jan­uary, when the news broke that David Bowie had passed away the day be­fore. What fol­lowed was an ex­tra­or­di­nary ex­am­ple of col­lec­tive mourn­ing in the so­cial me­dia age. Fans came to­gether to share re­flec­tions, anec­dotes, in­ter­views, songs and YouTube clips, bathing their sense of loss in com­mu­nal love and awe. One rea­son the sor­row­ing lasted longer than it does for most mu­si­cians is that there were so many dif­fer­ent Bowies to cel­e­brate, and so many ways in which to do it. Broad­caster Adam Bux­ton cap­tured this mul­ti­plic­ity in his live events and pod­casts, com­bin­ing geek­ish fan­dom, witty ir­rev­er­ence and pal­pa­ble grief. For Bux­ton, the peak ’ 80s silli­ness of Labyrinth was as im­por­tant as the arc­tic cool of the Ber­lin pe­riod. A slew of live cover ver­sions fur­ther demon­strated that any­one can find a Bowie song that speaks to them: rock’n’roll Bowie (Spring­steen and Madonna sep­a­rately singing Rebel Rebel),

melan­choly Bowie (Beck and Nir­vana’s rhythm sec­tion col­lab­o­rat­ing on The Man Who Sold The World), quirky Bowie (Mad­ness cov­er­ing Kooks), an­themic Bowie (Cold­play do­ing “He­roes”) and more.

All of these re­ac­tions spun in or­bit around Black­star. If you felt that Bowie’s last al­bum was slightly over­rated for sen­ti­men­tal rea­sons, then bear in mind that the re­views came out be­fore he died, and that no­body made grand claims about Prince’s HITnRUN Phase Two. It’s a great record re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances. What the rev­e­la­tion of Bowie’s ter­mi­nal can­cer did was make Black­star’s mere ex­is­tence up­lift­ing. How do you spend your days when you know they’re num­bered? Travel the world? Tie up loose ends? Make a bucket list? For Bowie the an­swer was: you work, you cre­ate, be­cause that’s what you do. Lazarus play­wright Enda Walsh has spo­ken about “watch­ing some­body who’s ill and think­ing, ‘They’ve still got so much work in them!’” Dy­ing didn’t slow Bowie down; it made him move at the speed of life. And un­like Co­hen’s win­try swan­song You Want It Darker, Black­star was less a fi­nal sum­ma­tion of a life­time’s work than one last leap into the fu­ture. Apart from plung­ing into Black­star’s maze of mean­ings, the best way to hon­our Bowie in the months fol­low­ing his death was to re­con­nect with his other mu­sic, es­pe­cially great al­bums such as Out­side, which were over­shad­owed by his im­pe­rial phase. The sec­ond in a planned se­ries of reis­sues but the first to ap­pear posthu­mously, the boxset Who Can I Be Now? ( 1974-1976) shed new light on his achieve­ments. By in­clud­ing The Gouster, an early ver­sion of the al­bum that be­came Young Amer­i­cans, it in­vited fans to con­sider the hard work and thought that lay be­hind Bowie’s seem­ingly ef­fort­less tran­si­tions. Mean­while, the 40th an­niver­sary reis­sue of The Man Who Fell To Earth, his finest film, was an op­por­tu­nity to re­mem­ber him as an ac­tor. And the Sotheby’s auc­tion of his art col­lec­tion was a timely re­minder that his cu­rios­ity and good taste ex­tended far be­yond mu­sic. He was an ex­cep­tional cu­ra­tor of brave and beau­ti­ful things. Ex­plicit mu­si­cal trib­utes, how­ever, were a tricky un­der­tak­ing which of­ten ended up un­der­scor­ing what a sin­gu­lar, inim­itable artist Bowie was. Lorde did jus­tice to Life On Mars? at the Brit Awards, backed by vet­eran Bowie col­lab­o­ra­tors in­clud­ing Mike Gar­son and Earl Slick, but Lady Gaga’s hec­tic med­ley at the Gram­mys was all sugar and glitz, while the BBC Proms show missed the mark more of­ten that not. If one per­for­mance was too show­biz, then the other was too wil­fully avant-garde. Bowie’s ge­nius was to bridge the gap be­tween the two worlds with panache. That doesn’t mean that he never tripped up. Bowie was a pop lodestar be­cause he never stopped ex­per­i­ment­ing, not be­cause all of those ex­per­i­ments worked. Some, no­tably the Glass Spi­der Tour and Tin Ma­chine, were spec­tac­u­lar mis­fires. So it felt ap­pro­pri­ate to the re­al­ity of the man rather than the myth that Lazarus, the stage mu­si­cal he was work­ing on along­side Black­star, was so di­vi­sive. If Lazarus had come along 20 years ago, dur­ing Bowie’s taken-for-granted years, it would pos­si­bly have been re­garded as one of his au­da­cious fol­lies. Even with the emo­tional kick pro­vided by his ab­sence, many fans came away from the Lon­don run be­wil­dered by the dream-like plot and un­con­vinced by the Broad­way re-imag­in­ings of his clas­sic songs. It pro­vided one fi­nal twist. In con­trast to the per­fect, tomb­stone­like fi­nal­ity of Black­star, Lazarus was a pow­er­ful re­minder of Bowie’s whims, ec­cen­tric­i­ties, mys­ter­ies and im­per­fec­tions. Lazarus’s great­est gift was the three new songs Bowie wrote for the show and recorded him­self for the sound­track, es­pe­cially the ele­giac No Plan. Even as it spoke to the pur­ga­to­rial con­di­tion of the play’s char­ac­ters, trapped be­tween life and death, the song dou­bled as a grace­ful farewell from Bowie him­self: “All the things that are my life/My moods, my be­liefs, my de­sires/Me alone, noth­ing to re­gret/This is no place, but here I am/This is not quite yet.”

On 8 Jan­uary, which would have been his 70th birth­day, dozens of mu­si­cians who played with Bowie will be per­form­ing with guest vo­cal­ists at ben­e­fit shows around the world un­der the ban­ner Cel­e­brat­ing David Bowie. At this point he some­how seems as cen­tral to pop­u­lar cul­ture as he has ever been: a benev­o­lent, in­tan­gi­ble pres­ence whose in­flu­ence is never-end­ing and whose mem­ory is a spur to other artists to be bold and never stop. This is no place, but here he is.

He some­how seems as cen­tral to pop­u­lar cul­ture as he has ever been: a benev­o­lent, in­tan­gi­ble pres­ence whose in­flu­ence is never-end­ing…

The long good­bye: (above) in the stu­dio mak­ing 2013’ s The Next Day, New York; (right) one of the fi­nal shots of Bowie, 2015.

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